Monthly Archives: June 2013

Full Moon & Solstice Weekend: Finding Spirit in All Places

A reality has become apparent: Life is beautifully busy at the Salt Spring Center of Yoga.

This isn’t the “hectic busy” of the working parent or the swamped university student. This busy is more like… fullness, and wholeness — the full, plump belly of a satisfied lifestyle. This is the type of busy in which I know I will not have time to write a blog today, because I can’t miss Qi-gong and still want to attend the Yoga Philosophy class. After a long day working the earth under the island sun, the internet is but a distant thought.

I’d love to be writing long rants and discussions about aspects of yoga psychology and such, but in order to balance my time here at the Center, I’d like start smaller little blogs — with lots of pictures. The following are scattered photographic highlights of my last week.

A little buddy who chilled with me for a while under a bush in the meditation garden.

A little buddy who chilled with me for a while under a bush in the meditation garden.

Being outdoors most days brings a plethora of gifts from nature. While working in a flower bed, this medium (3ft) garter snake casually slithered up to see what was going on. He was a mellow snake, allowing me to lay down on my belly with only 40cm or so between our eyes. We hung out for a while. I grabbed my camera and came back, but of course he didn’t enjoy being approached by the mysterious electronic device. Snake energy is radical — very Shiva. It amazes me that these creatures are eternally on their bellies slithering through the dust and the muck, yet I’ve never seen a dirty snake. They are always pure and clean.

The view of Fulford Harbour from the top of Mt. Maxwell, Salt Spring Island.

It hasn’t gotten old yet – every time I see the ocean, I get this trippy sensation: I’m on a freakin’ island! (Obvious prairie origins of author become apparent here.) Something about this place being physically isolated from the mainlaind is awfully romantic. No one can simply wander onto Salt Spring island. There needs to be an intention of some sort: I am going to that piece of land over yonder. Perhaps that factor helps to create the island wide sensation of community I feel here.

A big pile of wood, chopped by the finest artisan wood workers on the island.

A big pile of wood, chopped by the finest artisan wood workers on the island.

Before enlightenment: Chop wood, carry water. After enlightenment: Chop wood, carry water. Two full days of splitting some gnarly trees — with a full gamut of sledgehammers, sledgeaxes, wedges and axes — was a great exercise in mindfulness. Also great anger therapy. There’s no room for anything but total concentration when swinging a 20lb sledgehammer for a few hours, unless you want to sprain your spine or pop a toe.

A most excellent wood burning sauna.

A most excellent wood burning sauna.

Chop wood, feed stove, heat sauna, enjoy sauna. Working without attachment to the fruits of one’s labour is a key aspect of Karma Yoga, which I dare say I was practicing as I chopped wood a few days ago. However, had I known the wood supply was going to fuel the healing warmth of the sauna, I might have been pretty attached! I capped off my Saturday with a late night sauna. It was glorious. When I emerged to cool down, I was greeted with a massive and luminous full moon.

The massive June full moon lighting up the midnight sky.

The massive June full moon lighting up the midnight sky.

My wee camera had no hope of capturing the majesty of the silhouetted cedars and silver clouds. Use your imagination — we’re at a yoga center on a big island at midnight, staring up at the stars and moon, the internal body warmed by the dry sauna, and cool air tingling the skin…  And then imagine all the other people on the planet reverently enjoying that same moon. Wow. What an incredible way to kick off the summer. Whatever you were doing on the 21st, happy solstice to you. And a happy full moon to you, too. 

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The “gist” of The Salt Spring Center of Yoga

There is gem being nurtured within the confines of the Salt Spring Center of Yoga.

A beautiful and multifaceted crystal composed of land, spirit and human beings — humans, being. It is a blessing to return to a thriving and dynamic spiritual community. A week has not yet passed, but I am already beginning to feel at home here.

A nice Iris growing beside a greenhouse

Although I have been feeling inspired and creative in recent days, after finishing a tiring day of weeding the gardens I am feeling tired and logical. Today’s entry is being created as a resource to anyone interested in participating in this community. I will be going through the practical aspects of life at Salt Spring Center of Yoga. Knowing the general layout will be helpful for later blogs, I think.

The Salt Spring Center of Yoga, front entrance.

The Salt Spring Center of Yoga, front entrance.

The days are full at SSCY. I have gotten into a flow of early morning meditation followed by some outdoor exercise and asanas before eating. There are separate spaces dedicated to individual asana and meditation practice from 5-7AM each day.  There usually a yoga or pranayama class to join at 7AM, which takes us until breakfast. The food here seems to be gluten-free & vegan by default; foods outside of this range are labeled accordingly. Food quality is amazing, amazing, amazing. The bulk of the day is more or less Karma Yoga, with more interesting programs offered in the evenings. There is never a shortage of things to do!

The "Farm Yogis" doing their thing on a small section of the 69 acres of land.

The “Farm Yogis” doing their thing on a small section of the 69 acres of land.

Practicing selfless service is a key purpose of my residence here, and we are all given a great opportunity to try it out. I’ve been assigned to the Landscaping & Maintenance team – yay! Being outdoors and doing repetitive tasks is the perfect opportunity to apply mindfulness, mantra and grace to the task at hand. Keeping mindful during the work day also means being conscious of the body’s needs. I am encouraged to take a break whenever I need one, whether it be for a snack or just to rest for a few minutes. Timeliness is important to the extent that it shows respect for my fellow workers and the task at hand, not simply for the bottom line of worker productivity. It’s all a gentle cycle of ebb and flow, a fluid and harmonious balance of graceful seva (work).

The landscaping and maintenance HQ.

The landscaping and maintenance HQ. (My “office”.)

Most Karma Yogis here work about 6 hours per day, five days per week. Although that doesn’t sound like a huge time commitment, fun stuff abounds and the days fill fast! Obviously, there are lots of yoga asana classes, but a visitor to SSCY will also be able to try qi-gong (similar to tai chi), learn yogic philosophy, learn and practice breathing and meditation techniques, and experience satsanga (spiritual community gatherings) with devotional songs, chanting and meditation. We’ve also found some time for informal music jams and acro-yoga fun.

"the mound" -- a great place to play in the sun.

“the mound” — a great place to play in the sun.

The facilities are excellent. There is a main house with a stunning and spacious satsanga room, complete with a stained glass yantra and glistening hardwood floor. (I haven’t felt so bold as to photograph in there yet.) A dining hall attaches to a well equipped kitchen that is capable of providing food for the hundreds of guests that the facilities can hold at max capacity. There is a separate dish cleaning room.

The dining hall at the Center.

The dining hall at the Center. The kitchen extends behind the door at the back.

Further down the path is another big building that houses a space for morning meditation. During the day this building, the Garden House, is a functioning wellness center that provides Ayurvedic treatments to interested visitors. Across a soft raised grassy mound lies a small wooden yurt for classes or individual practice. The energy in there is sattvic and it is a great place to finish the evening with personal sadhana. 

The Garden House

The Garden House

Garden House - interior. The Wellness center is in a separate room to the left.

Garden House – interior. The Wellness center is in a separate room to the left.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The yurt, tucked away across the mound from the main house.

The yurt, tucked away across the mound from the main house.

The inside of the yurt.

The inside of the yurt.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Right next door is yet another cool space – a giant outdoor fountain (affectionately called the “mountain fountain”) that flows through a beautiful meditation garden. There are simple and clean temples to Ganesha, Hanuman and the Virgin Mary around this area, referred to simply as the “meditation garden”.

The Mountain Fountain, looking nice.

The Mountain Fountain, looking nice.

Two small temples and a glimpse of the tiered gardens surrounding the fountain.

Two small temples and a glimpse of the tiered gardens surrounding the fountain.

Oh, yeah, there’s a huge pond over yonder as well, across the field and gravel road. Tons of frogs, dragonflies and interesting plants hang out there. This pond is the picturesque object of focus of the “Pond Dome”, a huge plastic covered quonset-type building where massive groups of people can do yoga or listen to lectures during summer retreats. [No pics.]

Further down into the grounds is a school. A legitimate, fully functioning elementary school with a playground and everything. This was surprising to me. Apparently it’s the Salt Spring equivalent of a Waldorf, and being located on the grounds of a yoga center has got to be good for the kids. Our staff and theirs do not have a lot of overlap, although some karma yogis in the past have gone over to do reading and such.

The Salt Spring Center School.

The Salt Spring Center School. I think that’s just the coolest idea ever.

And finally, continuing all the way down this path into the forest are the camping sites. With raised, level tent beds and pre-strung rain tarps overhead, it feels like utter luxury. Super clean outhouses and ultra hot outdoor showers complete this perfect forest retreat.

A lovely and clean tent set up.

A lovely and clean tent set up.

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A cute tent with prayer flags

My weekend begins tomorrow, Sunday and Monday, so I’m ready to relax after five big days of learning the land and working hard in the fields mowing lawns. I’ve been getting a lot of great thoughts and realizations bubbling up, so you can expect something more exciting and less business-oriented for next week’s update!

Flanking the stairs to enjoy the weather and community during lunch.

Flanking the stairs to enjoy the weather and community during lunch.

 

 

Many Paths. Same Destination. Let’s cut off the excess.

As I begin to write this, I am on the ferry from the mainland to Vancouver island where I will be spending a few days in Victoria, BC. Recalling her last ferry ride on a single level open-air boat, it is no wonder that Luna is a bit overwhelmed at the size of this behemoth!

300+ cars and trucks on this big boy ferry from Vancouver to the island. Scary stuff for a naive Alberta van!

300+ cars and trucks on this big boy ferry from Vancouver to the island. Scary stuff for a naive Alberta van!

The first ferry - a couple dozen cars and a comforting view of the sky.

The first ferry – a couple dozen cars and a comforting view of the sky.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And speaking of overwhelmed, my brief drive through Vancouver was intense! We dropped off a friend in the middle of downtown and he took us on a little tour of the city core before departing. Three weeks encapsulated in the Buddhist retreat centre within the dense mountain rainforest was calming to the senses. After resetting my system a little bit, it came as quite the shock to be surrounded by metropolis. Vancouver felt kind of like this:

[pupils dilated] Harbours! Bridges! Skyscrapers! Lights! Crowds! Wow! Cool!

Quite the reminder that it requires a certain amount of desensitization to natural rhythms to be able to live within the urban jungle. Perhaps I’m missing a key understanding, but it doesn’t seem especially healthy to have to dull the senses stay grounded within the energy of a big city. Any thoughts? Is there a way to stay aware of our physical connection to earth within the intense excitement of a busy metropolis? Or must we forget a bit of our human nature to stop from going crazy?

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As predicted, my time at Sea to Sky flew by in a flurry. Three weeks is no time at all! Yet, I feel that in these three weeks my partner and I were able to contribute positively to the daily tasks and labour required at SSRC. In my free time I chose to do some reading and learned much about the core teachings of the Buddha. I was not surprised to learn that the essence of the Buddha’s teachings are, in essence, no different than those of core yogic philosophy — they bud from the same ancient branch. Non-violence, love, control over the senses, seated meditation practice, samadhi and enlightenment are key points in both Buddhism and Yoga. (I’m no scholar, but I would bet there are countless other similarities espoused in literature that could be easily found.)

The more I learn about the major religions and their core esoteric systems of practices, the more I understand that all paths are leading to the same goal.

This opinion — although not uncommon — can be hard to grasp because of the drastic differences in ritual, ceremony, dress code, methods of worship, personal conduct, and moral and ethical guidelines amounts the major religions. It is precisely these vast differences that I want to touch upon next.

Here’s a thought: I am going to go out on a limb and propose that any aspect of any spiritual path (be it religious or non-secular) that has the potential to vary drastically across belief systems is unnecessary, and further, this aspect can be eliminated without affecting the belief system’s underlying core concepts.

 Fundamental aspects of all belief systems:

  • Remembrance of that which is bigger than us (God, the Divine, the Void, etc).
             … And coming together as community to do so.
  • Cultivating love, compassion and selflessness (and most other “noble” characteristics).
  • Experiential connection to that which is bigger than us, such as through meditation, prayer, trance, etc.
              …And regular practice of this connection. 
  • ??? There are probably a few others

There’s not too much else that does NOT vary throughout today’s spiritual world.

Here is a brief list of some aspects of belief systems that DO vary drastically:

  • Physical garb and appearance of “spiritual” humans (priestly garb, Brahmin string, jewels, bones, ash, blood, etc).
  • Specific dates of worship, auspiciousness, and celebration.
  • Specific words/lyrics/language of devotional music
  • A “spiritually empowered” or “better” gender, age and skin colour
  • Vastness or minuteness of religious empire
  • Proselytizing and conversion techniques
  • Doomsday predictions
  • The use of incense
  • ALL RITUAL
  • ALL CEREMONY
  • ??? There is definitely a ton more of these 

 

[Those last two in caps are obviously the most important. Clearly there are aspects within ritual and ceremony that share in essentials, such as using music to raise vibration, but I am referring to the superficial ways in which these rituals are carried out.]

A simple Venn Diagram.

A simple Venn Diagram.

Right now modern spiritual society is a huge Venn diagram. A common shared core of the important  spiritual essentials is being forgotten due to the spiralling and friction of the surrounding non-essentials. Why not get rid of this?

I feel that the only way humankind will progress into an era of increased harmony and peace will be to recognize the fundamental similarities amongst all major faiths, while simultaneously discarding the non-overlapping components. We are holding onto a diverse portfolio of redundant and outdated methods of finding God, and without pruning down to the agreeable essentials there will continue to be clash between belief systems.

I am not proposing that every being must conform to an identical set of practices. Rather, I am suggesting that it should become a personal endeavour to find the non-essentials that work for you. A large group spiritual following should not force anything unnecessary upon its members. If you are called to pursue Shamanic drumming rituals, please do! And share your healing work with other fortunate souls. After all, personal experience with the divine is a core aspect of all faiths and should be encouraged. All beings should be encouraged to find their own methods of achieving the core aspects of spirituality (as outlined in the first list).

Let’s not let dogmatism restrict the unlimited ways in which a human can pursue connection with something greater — excise the excess within religion.